Going into the 2011 season, the biggest question mark about Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was his durability. After all, ex-teammate Zack Follet once referred to Stafford as a "China doll."
While the perception may not have completely changed about Stafford's durability, the question going into 2012 isn't whether or not he can stay on the field for a full slate of games (again).
The question is: How close can he come to duplicating last year's performance?
Although 300-yard games and 4,000-yard seasons have become somewhat commonplace in today's NFL, Stafford became only the fourth quarterback in league history to reach 5,000 passing yards in a single season.
Regardless of how accustomed or desensitized we might become to gaudy passing stats, it's impressive for a quarterback to be in a four-player group along with only Dan Marino, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
While Stafford has the ability to make all the throws, he has a talented supporting cast around him.
The Lions have the league's top receiver in Calvin Johnson. Johnson became only the second receiver in league history to finish with 1,600-plus yards and 16-plus touchdowns in the same season. The other player to do so was Randy Moss (2003).
Assuming Megatron can avoid the "Madden curse," Johnson, Titus Young, Nate Burleson and rookie Ryan Broyles give the Lions one of the league's most talented receiving corps. They also have a pair of solid pass-catching tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
How many passing yards will Matthew Stafford have in 2012?
As the Lions have struggled to establish a running game (perhaps their backs will have better health this year), the Lions have aired it out in the three years of the Jim Schwartz era. They led the NFL in pass attempts (41.6 per game) last year, but they have ranked in the top six in 2009 and 2010 as well.
Last year, Stafford threw it 50-plus times in four games and 40-plus times for a total of eight games. Even though he has elite talent, he will get the volume opportunities to deliver for his fantasy owners.
(Strength of) Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last year by all of the Lions' opponents this year, Stafford has the 12th-easiest schedule from a fantasy perspective and ninth easiest in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16).
Assuming good health (knock on wood) for Stafford and his receivers, and that Titus Young stops sucker-punching his teammates, Stafford should be in store for another monster season.
Although, if the Lions get more from their ground game—and it would be hard to get less (only three teams rushed for less than Detroit last year)—Stafford's numbers won't be as prolific as last year's total.
Even if Stafford's production dips by 10 percent, however, he would still throw for 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns. He is a top-five quarterback option in 2012.
At only 24 years old and with Megatron locked up for the foreseeable future, Stafford should put up elite statistics indefinitely.
While it's unlikely that he has peaked at such an early age, it's also hard to see him improve upon his 2011 numbers. That said, he should still be putting up 4,000-yard and 30-touchdown seasons going into the next decade.
2012 Projection: Passing: 4,700 yards, 36 TDs, 15 INTs; Rushing: 75 yards, 1 TD
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